Georges Charpak: 1924-2010

All of CERN was deeply saddened to learn the news that our friend and colleague, Georges Charpak, passed away on 29 September 2010.


There are few people who can honestly be said to have changed the world, but Charpak was one of them. Born in Dabrovika, Poland on 8 March 1924, Charpak fled the Nazi regime under a false identity and moved to France where he joined the resistance. Arrested and deported to Dachau, he returned to France after the war and took French nationality in 1946.

A student of Frédéric Joliot-Curie at the Collège de France, he joined CERN in 1959, just five years after the Organization’s foundation, and he certainly left his mark. From the start, Charpak applied himself to the development of new particle detector techniques. His outstanding and pioneering efforts revolutionised particle physics, taking the field into the electronic age. It is fair to say that without the developments pioneered by him, particularly the invention of the multi-wire proportional chamber in 1968, much of the LHC programme would not be possible today.

The significance of his work did not go unnoticed, and was crowned with the award of science’s biggest prize, the Nobel, in 1992. In making this award, the Swedish Academy recognised not only Charpak’s contribution to science, but also to society. Detectors evolved from his pioneering work have found applications in many walks of life ranging from medicine to security.

For most people, that would be enough, but not for Charpak. As well as a passion for science, he also had a passion for education, and set up the successful ‘la main a la pate’ programme to engage young people with science. This, he once said, was his true vocation.

I know that I am speaking for all of Georges’ friends and colleagues at CERN in saying that we will miss him. Particle physics has lost not only an excellent physicist, but also a true gentleman.

A full tribute will appear in an upcoming issue of the CERN Courier.

Rolf Heuer

Watch the video conference of Georges Charpak.

Click here to read Georges Charpak's interview with CERN Courier.